Four online marketing metrics to obsess about

online marketing metrics

Like every new blogger, my dream of success meant getting a business superstar to share my content online. I was convinced that validation from a celebrity tweet would change everything and propel me into the sunny skies of Internet fame and fortune.

About two years into my blogging career, to my surprise and delight, my dream came true. One of my blog posts was tweeted by marketing superstar Guy Kawaski, who has a Twitter following roughly the size of France.

As soon as he tweeted the post (on a Friday) my traffic surged, and over the weekend the number of people finding my site was 500 percent greater than the normal rate. Briefly, the Guy-traffic crashed my server and shut down my website. Look at me—I went viral!

The vanity of “traffic”

When you go viral, you naturally reach a lot of new people outside the comfortable “normal” audience you’ve built over time. In fact, about 98 percent of the tidal wave of readers over that weekend had never been to the blog before (something that is easily determined through an analytics program). I had a full weekend of blog tourists!

There was no lasting impact from that traffic spike. As far as I could tell, I didn’t even get one new subscriber from the biggest single day ever on my blog, up until that point.

Bottom line: There were no discernible business benefits from an “influencer” making my content go viral. This provided an important lesson early in my blogging career — for many businesses, especially if you are selling personal services like me, “traffic” is simply a vanity metric.

The ultimate metric?

Anybody can figure out ways to generate short-term web traffic. But that’s simply a battle for attention you can never win. Let your competitors knock each other out over that. Place your focus in just one place — nurturing a truly loyal audience by running your business in a way that demonstrates mutual respect, gratitude, enduring trust, and … dare I say it? Love. Love is not a word usually embraced by businesses, but how can you create unyielding loyalty without it? Maybe love is the ultimate killer app.

How would your business be transformed if your focus was demonstrating respect, gratitude, and love instead of “traffic?”

This is the digital crossroad, a genuine point of business differentiation today. You can pay people to create great content and then pay people to promote it. Huge companies will escalate and automate their content arms race with breath-taking, epic videos. Eventually computers will be creating Grade A content for us with a push of a button. But traffic alone will never create an audience who loves your business.

Four online marketing metrics

So what does matter? There is no one-size-fits-all answer, but here are the four metrics that I pay attention to, measurements that indicate I am growing a loyal audience who will eventually buy stuff:

Returning visitors. The sales cycle for my B2B business is very long. It might take years for a business connection to be in a position to hire me for a marketing workshop or a speech. So I want people to keep coming back to my site. As long as this number keeps rising it will be a leading indicator of good fortune in the future.

Time on site. My marketing goal is simple — earn people’s trust through what they see, hear, and read from me. If the trust is high, the business will follow. The only way people will learn about me though is to take a deep dive into my site and hang around. So this is sort of the second half of metric number one — 1) come back to my site, and then 2) hang around!

Social shares. There is no power in content. There is only power in content that MOVES. If my content is not being shared and enjoyed I am wasting my time. Here is a truth — when I do good work, my audience rewards me with content ignition. The social web is highly sensitive to quality, so when I see a post doing well, it’s accurate feedback from the online world that I did a good job. Over time, the audience has a big influence on what I write about as I learn what they like.

Conversions. For most businesses, this is the most critical metric of all. How are the visitors converting to real business? Over the past few years the ability to track this has improved dramatically – we can measure our effectiveness down to a specific piece of content or a link on a page. Understanding these details and continually iterating must be a core competency of any marketing department today.

My business is a little different in that people normally can’t visit, click, and immediately buy something that connects to a “conversion.” When people hire me, it is usually through an email or a phone call, perhaps after they have known me for years. However, a conversion metric for me might mean page views per visit, or the number of clicks to a subscription, consulting, or speaking page that indicates momentum.

I’m constantly learning about new ways to assess and measure my progress and I hope you’ll share your lessons too. What metrics indicate you’re heading in the right direction?

This post was written as part of the Dell Insight Partners program, which provides news and analysis about the evolving world of tech. To learn more about tech news and analysis visit TechPageOne. Dell sponsored this article, but the opinions are my own and don’t necessarily represent Dell’s positions or strategies.

Illustration courtesy Flickr CC and Laneyis Repertoire

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  • Another great, insightful post Mark. Thank you for sharing your experience.
    I hope you realize you´ve turned me in an addict of your blog! 😉
    Now, I don´t even expect the newsletter to hit my inbox, I come straight to the blog!

  • Kevkimkyl

    Great points! I’ll still take that tweet from Guy Kawaski though! 🙂

  • That is wonderful news. : ) This is important because we are becoming friends and you never know where that will lead in terms of business opportunities. Of course you will be the first person I visit on my next trip to Madrid. This is the true power of social media, blog comments and audience connection at work. You are not traffic. You are a friend now. Doesn’t that make a big difference?

  • A weird weekend, but yes, it was fun.

  • Absolutely! And I´d love to meet if and when you come to Madrid.

  • Brooke Ballard

    (SQUEE!) We need to have a bigger conversation about this. LOVE is HUGE in emotional marketing today. I wrote a post last year about brands using psychographics (specifically the word LOVE) in their attempts at emotional marketing. And since that post, I’ve seen other brands start to adopt LOVE as a word in their marketing.

    I think LOVE for a brand is THE thing to focus on. Feelings denote the deepest form of disclosure, they signify a relationship and the birth of trust.

    I get that it feels weird to embrace the “warm and fuzzies” — but I’m sure many brands would pay gobs of money to induce the “warm and fuzzies” in the audiences they are seeking out.

    The metrics you listed are leading to love. To trust. To a relationship (and possibly some sort of conversation). Not that everyone you “date” gets there … but these metrics show better way to get there (versus vanity metrics).

  • Anders Orsander

    Love, of course you dare say “love” Mark. But you are wise to ask if you dare say it. We love to love and we fear to love. With love comes trust, loyalty and closeness. But also vulnerability and fear of rejection and loss.

    I think J K Rowling puts it very well when she let’s Dumbledore talk about the Love Chamber:

    “There is a room in the Department of Mysteries that is kept locked at all times. It contains a force that is at once more wonderful and more terrible than death, than human intelligence, than the forces of nature. It is also, perhaps, the most mysterious of the many subjects for study that reside there. It is the power held within that room that you possess in such quantities and which Voldemort has not at all.”

    Great questions in this post Mark. You have my mind buzzing.

  • Well said Brooke. Look forward to fleshing these ideas out in the months ahead!

  • Awesome reference! Thanks so much for this contribution to the discussion Anders!

  • Dexter Patterson

    The Guy Kawasaki reference in this post is awesome because I had the same feeling when Mr. Schaefer retweeted a blog post I did after reading The Tao of Twitter. I never really thought about traffic not being an important metric but it makes sense because without the trust and loyalty of the visitors coming to your site traffic means nothing.

    I definitely look forward to focusing more on returning visitors, getting people to stay on my site, and social shares. Any suggestions on analytic tools that can help me monitor these 4 areas more closely?

  • Anders Orsander

    My pleasure Mark. I like Bryan Kramer’s thoughts on H2H – Human to Human. Sure, business is a different setting and different goals than friendship or romantic relationship. But B2C, B2B, friendship, relationships all have the human interaction in common. That makes love relevant for all of them.

  • I completely agree, and have had the same feeling when influencers have tweeted my articles. It feels good, but doesn’t pay the bills. 🙂

    We should all try to be lovable in every aspect of our lives and that absolutely needs to translate to business. It can get a little dicey when companies actually put the word “love” in their marketing slogans, though.

    I think HubSpot’s “Creating Marketing People Love” works, but I always roll my eyes a little at “Love, it’s what makes a Subaru a Subaru.” Is it just me?

  • Yes, I actually characterized this as “P2P” (person to person) in the first edition of The Tao of Twitter in 2011. Same concept.

  • Thanks for the kind comments young man. You can pretty much get all of this through Google Analytics. I also use StatCounter which gives a better one-day snapshot than Google Analytics. I might be in your state this summer and hope we can connect.

  • You’re right Alisa. The word “love” is a hot button for a lot of people. Personally, I don’t think you tell about it in your ads, you show it in your actions.

  • Yes! Exactly. If you have to wear “sexy” on your t-shirt…

  • I’m too sexy for my blog … too sexy for my blog …

  • colinmyers

    Nice article, we had this in the B2B site for our JetChill product, we had three TV spots, traffic crashed the site for the weekend. We have a few thousand visitors over the weekend than normal, which was great. Come Monday we thought we might sell some machines and boom nothing, bottom line back to the hustle.

  • Milton Ayala

    Another excellent article!

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  • Solid thoughts Mark. Agree with each of the metrics as setting a foundation. Of course, one can always come up with a list of 20-25 metrics that companies should pay attention to, but on a base-level, these are very important.

    I like that you raised the point about new vs returning visitors. One of the services that we offer clients is Web Analytics reports with insights. We scour through their GA data, tell them what’s happening and what they should be doing based on discussions we have with them.

    One of the metrics I repeatedly stress about in GA with them is New vs Returning Visitors. Facebook ads and influencer tweets will get you TONS of new visitors, but if they don’t come back to your website – something is wrong. Thankfully, GA also gives you a breakdown of the amount of times a particular user has visited your website in a month. A neat little chart that shows users that visited once, twice, between 10-15 times, and so on and so forth. I told them that while they should ALWAYS be looking at a healthy amount of NEW people, it’s vital that the amount of people that visit 5+ times a month surges as well – that’s a sure-shot metric of you actually making a difference in your customer’s lives.

    It’s like a restaurant, come to think of it.

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  • Ha! Love that. Back to the hustle indeed. : )

  • Great restaurant analogy. Very true. And of course for many businesses traffic IS important on some level, especially if you are selling discreet items like parts or cars. I’m kind of disappointed somebody didn’t come on to the comment section and say “Hey wait a minute! We LOVE traffic and here’s why …” My post was meant to stretch thinking in a certain way but, as you say, there are so many measurement options that can be tailored to align with business goals. There is no cookie-cutter answer.

  • Thanks Milton.

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  • Hi Mark, First time visitor but your content is really impressive.
    “There is no power in content. There is only power in content that MOVES. ” I just love these lines.Thanks Mark

  • So happy to have you read my blog and comment. Hope to see you here often Deepika!

  • rsan

    I agree with you Mr. Avtar Ram Singh, strong thoughts Mark.
    “Love is not a word usually embraced by businesses, but how can you create unyielding loyalty without it? Maybe love is the ultimate killer app.” those words of yours strike me straight to my heart and make me think “is every developers/businessman think and act like you do? Still Thank you for sharing this post to us, I highly appreciated it.

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